By Eric Kump
SC Staff Writer
Last Tuesday, the Office of Multicultural Affairs hosted the Native American Contributions presentation. Carla and Allen Messinger of the Lenni Lenape Tribe shared traditional tools, customs, and other facts about what the tribe’s daily life was like.
Mr. Messinger, also known as Mr. History, is a veteran educator with over 30 years of experience in history, foreign language, and English teaching in the Allentown school district. He began by speaking about the furs and tools that were used within the tribe.
The hats were originally made of beaver fur. The beavers were hunted to near extinction in North America and were pushed to the Rocky Mountains. Mercury was spread on the fur to preserve it for the hats. This process left both the hat wearers and makers mad and then eventually killed them.
He continued by discussing the tools used by the Lenape tribe, focusing first on the tomahawk pipe.
A tomahawk pipe has a hollowed out handle to smoke tobacco and at the opposite end, a blade made from and old rifle.
Other tools included a gourd that was repurposed as a bottle and a carved piece of wood, finely sanded, to use as a “cup” for drinking water.
Even parts of the turkey were used to make tools. Bones, like the drumstick, would be sanded down and carved to make whistles.
Mrs. Messinger then started speaking on the daily dress of women and their roles. The women had a two-piece set of clothing, a skirt and poncho made of deerskin.
In the winter, the side with hair was placed towards the person’s skin for warmth, while in the summer the hair was removed completely.
Both men and women had set leggings that were tied just below the knee for protection against high brush.
Their day-to-day meals were very similar. Oatmeal was the standard breakfast while a special stew was made for dinners. By mid-October, collection of the food needed for the winter would be nearly complete. This food would last until mid-June, before the next harvest.
Only on special occasions would feasts be held to feed everyone in a clan. In the stew would be a mix of the abundant things that could last the winter including corn, beans, and squash. Finding an all red ear of corn was thought to be good luck.
“During the time, even husks had a secondary use; everything gets recycled,” Mr. Messinger said.
“If a child wanted a doll, the husks would get chopped off and a play toy would be created from them,” he continued.
The diets of the Native Americans consisted of mostly fruits, meat, and vegetables. English settlers had very unhealthy regimen with salts and sugars.
“Also the most important to this time of year, the Native Americans brought the turkey to the new world. Mr. Messinger said, “Before the birds were only about 15 pounds, now they’re about double that. Also, the use of the bird is much different.”
“They used everything,” he continued, “woven a cloak from the feathers for warmth made a major advancement for the people. The feathers could also help to keep a fire going throughout the year to not need to repeatedly start one.”
Some say that diet affects a person’s overall growth and development. The European settlers were very different because they didn’t exceed the height of five feet tall and their life expectancy was much shorter than that of Native Americans.
European women lived to about the age of 25 due to both the amount of children they had (10 to 12 per person) and the dress of the day. Women wore linen or wool that caught flame on the ambers of the fire. Only seven out of every one hundred children even survived yearly in an orphanage.
“At the time, male settlers only lived to the age of 45. This was considered an old seasoned age,” Mrs. Messinger said. “They were with grandchildren while Native American men lived to about 102.”
Another contributing factor to the health of people in that time is hygiene. “It was very different for the Native Americans because they constantly took baths, at least once a day. The settlers were lucky to get one in for a birthday.”
Mr. Messinger added in the point that most of the European settlers were very heavy smokers that had their scents blocked by the constant use of tobacco. He said, “So no matter how bad a settler smelled, he never really knew it. The Native peoples thought that [Europeans] were incredibly filthy.”
Not only were the Native Americans surprised, but also the settlers were shocked by the idea of a matriarchal household. Mrs. Messinger is a member of the Turtle Clan and this dictates of what clan all of her children will be. If the Lenape were a patriarchal tribe, the children would be a part of their father’s clan.
This often occurred because the wife would become a widow and be left in charge of the household. “When this happened, the women called the shots,” Mr. Messinger said. “They decided when to enter battle and when not to.”
“The European men couldn’t comprehend it,” he continued. “When entering a court, if a man wasn’t present to sign the paperwork, the woman would need to find one to sign them.”
These presentations are held throughout the year with November being the most popular month. For more info or to request a presentation, head to lenapeprograms.info or contact them by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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